Albert Henry: Officer under the radar

September 12, 2005 

Somewhere between Borneo and the Philippines, two officers puffed their pipes on the deck of a light cruiser.

One was Albert Henry, a lieutenant senior grade in charge of the USS Cleveland's radar.

The other? A guy named Douglas MacArthur.

Henry, a retired telephone company engineer in Aaronsburg, did more than share a smoke with the iconic general, then supreme allied commander of the Pacific Theater.

MacArthur chose the cruiser for his flagship during operations to capture Japanese oil refineries in Borneo. While returning to Subic Bay, he stepped out of his quarters for some fresh air.

Nearby, Henry relaxed on break. Over came MacArthur, hatless, lighting his signature corncob pipe.

He asked about Henry's job. The answer rang a bell for MacArthur, who recalled being told the lieutenant had written a course on radar.

Normally, the class lasted four days. MacArthur wanted to know if Henry could boil it down to 30 minutes.

Right then.

Henry wasn't about to shake his head.

"And he said, 'OK, you be the teacher, and I'll be the pupil,' " Henry said.

A Bell Telephone engineer from York in civilian life, Henry enlisted in the Navy in 1942 and spent months at New England colleges studying the new radar technology.

He joined the Cleveland near Guadalcanal in March 1944 after two other brushes with the famous.

At Pearl Harbor, he was summoned to the office of Adm. Chester Nimitz, the top brass in the Pacific Fleet. Nimitz reminded Henry of his duty to teach other naval officers about radar.

"He said, 'This is the challenge for you,' " Henry said.

En route to the Solomon Islands, Henry roomed with Joe Foss, a celebrated Marine fighter ace who won the Medal of Honor.

Aboard the Cleveland, Henry settled into helping the cruiser support the invasions of Saipan, Tinian, Guam, Palau, the Philippines and Okinawa. Its 6-inch guns, roaring and sending flames into the night, bombarded Japanese coastal defenses.

During the Marianas Turkey Shoot, when more than 300 Japanese carrier planes were shot down, the Cleveland's antiaircraft batteries notched two kills.

Unlike its sisters in cruiser Division 12, the Cleveland avoided damage -- just barely one time when attacking Japanese transports.

"They were firing back, and two of the cruisers were hit badly enough that they had to return to Pearl Harbor," Henry said. "This is at night, and I'm standing on the upper deck. And I heard two shots whistle through the smokestacks and come out the other side."

On shore leave in the Philippines, Henry had another close shave.

An old friend from home commanding a small PT boat offered Henry a ride. During the patrol, the gunboat's crew captured three Japanese soldiers trying to swim to the mainland from Corregidor Island.

"All of them peacefully surrendered, except one," Henry said. "He reached into his jacket, and I grabbed his arm, and he had his hand on a hand grenade. One of the seamen next to him hit him over the head with an empty shell, and that was the end of that."

But nothing made him more nervous than a legend with a corncob pipe listening intently to his every word.

"My knees were knocking," Henry said.

Months later, after Japan had surrendered, he met MacArthur again. Henry and the Cleveland's executive officer, a friend of the general, went to his headquarters near Tokyo seeking war souvenirs for the ship's crew.

Before MacArthur granted them permission to take back 1,200 rifles, with a few dress swords thrown in, he gave Henry something even better -- recognition.

"He patted (the executive officer) on the shoulder and said he was glad to see he came through without any problems," Henry said. "And he looked over at me and said, 'I see you brought your radar officer.' "

Chris Rosenblum can be reached at 231-4620.

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